BYU Cougars vs. Washington State Report Card: Grading the Offense
The first significant exam for the BYU Cougars has concluded with the boys in blue significantly exceeding most people's expectations.
However, not all position groups performed at an excellent or even satisfactory level.
This slide show breaks down BYU's offensive performance against the Washington St. Cougars according to position group. Some are deserving of our highest praise; others could be a cause of concern if significant improvement is not made in forthcoming games.
This one is easy.
70.3 percent completions, 303 yards, three TDs, zero pics—and most of that without BYU's most dangerous offensive weapon (WR Cody Hoffman).
There were a couple of times when Riley Nelson overthrew his target, and he threw a few questionable passes into heavy coverage.
But compared to the positives, those issues are insignificant.
However, there is noticeable room for improvement in BYU's blue-zone offense: Only two TDs in six trips to the blue zone is cause for concern. Five times BYU was inside 10-yard line, including four first-and-goal situations. Of those five series, only one ended in a TD.
Scoring TDs on 25 percent of your first-and-goal possessions is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Still on the overall, how can you not give Riley Nelson and Taysom Hill top marks?
The Offensive Line
Three yards per carry against the worst defense in the Pac-12?
It is not as though BYU lacks quality running backs. Michael Alisa averaged 5.4 ypc last year, QB Nelson averaged 4.5, and David Foote averaged 11.2. (True, Foote's average was inflated due to limited carries and two big runs during garbage time.)
44 percent of BYU's rushing attempts went for one yard or less.
Another major concern is where most of these failed run attempts occurred. Most were on runs going up the middle. The BYU offensive line simply could not open up holes against a Washington State defense that that was 12th in the Pac-12 and is learning a new defense from a new defensive coordinator (Washington State switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4).
This will be a serious problem if this pattern continues. Fortunately, I don't think it will. Like last year, BYU's offensive line needs some time to get its run-blocking together.
From a pass-blocking standpoint, they did OK. They gave up two sacks on 39 passing plays. Not particularly good, but could have been worse.
The Running Backs
This is a difficult group to grade because of how much the offensive line struggled.
One thing that I was impressed with was the backs' ability to turn the corner and get upfield. That is something that hasn't happened with regularity at BYU for a long time.
Now admittedly some of that outside running success is attributable to good play-calling, particularly with that option they ran, but I was definitely impressed with how Foote and Alisa got up field. 30.4 percent of running back carries went for 7-plus yards (almost all of which were out wide).
If the offensive line can get their act together, we could see a Cougar offense averaging close to six yards per carry.
While the O-line takes a significant part of the blame, 4.1 YPC against a subpar defense is a disappointing performance. The backs get upgraded for the reasons mentioned above, but I could not rate them higher than the grade given below.
Question: What happened to Iona Pritchard? After that first carry, he completely disappeared from the game (please answer if anyone knows).
The Wide (and Slot) Receivers
18 receptions, 186 yards, one TD.
I didn't really see any dropped passes or significant mistakes, but there wasn't a lot that stood out, either. Skyler Ridley was a pleasant surprise, but he didn't have a reception longer than 11 yards. J.D. Falslev and Ross Apo were functional to good.
As a unit, the receivers miss the production of Cody Hoffman. Apo has the potential to be a great receiver and a game-changer, but he has yet to reach his potential (though I think he will be there soon). Falslev and Ridley both performed quite well, but neither has the ability to dominate a game like Cody Hoffman can.
When Hoffman was taken out of the game with about three minutes left in the first quarter, he had already racked up 46 receiving yards. While Apo, Falslev, and Ridley can, to a degree, fill the gap in Hoffman's absence, let us hope Hoffman gets and stays healthy because the Cougars will need him against Utah and Boise St.
One thing that the receivers did do well that didn't show up on the stat sheet was block. We didn't get a chance to see all of it, but the wide receivers were one of the main reasons for the success of BYU's outside run game.
Grade: B+. The "B" is for the production and the "+" is for the blocking.
The Tight Ends
The only question here is how high of an "A" does Kaneakua Friel merit.
Six receptions, 101 yards, and two TDs.
The last time a BYU TE had 100 yards and two TDs in a single game was back in 2009 when Dennis Pitta did it against Air Force. Guess how many times Pitta (who had over 400 receiving yards and 3 TDs for the Baltimore Ravens last year) was able to compile such numbers that year? Just that one time.
I don't know if Friel is going to be a TE of Dennis Pitta's caliber, but based on his play yesterday I wouldn't be surprised.
One of the things I love about Friel is the way he plays the game. He isn't nearly as fast as a lot of other TEs (in fact he looked painfully slow at times, especially on his second TD reception) but he plays big.
He plays very big.
Friel is listed at only 6'5", 250 pounds, the same size as Austin Holt and only 10 lbs bigger than Richard Wilson. Yet I have never seen either of those players break tackles and dish out punishment the way Friel did yesterday.
Even Dennis Pitta who was significantly faster and nearly as big (6'4", 245 lbs.), never showed anything in terms of "playing big" like Friel showed against Washington St.
Because of all this I give Friel the highest grade possible (in spite of his one holding call).
Overall Offensive Grade
The BYU Offense put up 30 points, completed over 70 percent of its passes, and showed that it has the ability to run outside of the tackles.
Still, they just left so many points out on the field.
As I mentioned under the QB section, four times the BYU Cougars had a first-and-goal inside the 10-yard line. Only once did they manage to get into the end zone.
Overall Grade: B